Labor unions have long been a hallmark of developed economies. While their power has been on the decline for decades in the US, they are still a principle part of the labor market. Now, with their grip already in decline, they might be dealt a death blow by the Supreme Court. The court is about to hear a case on whether it is constitutional for labor unions to require government workers to fund the unions which represent them. Because of the decline in private sector unions, about half of all US union membership is now held by government employees, so a ruling against mandatory union dues could likely spark the end of American unions as we know them.
FINSUM: The decline of unions has been a complex and long-term affair. Aside from this case, we wonder if the power of unions might increase or decrease as automation takes further hold of the workplace.
So we are a year into the presidency of one of the country’s biggest real estate developers. However, the reality is that a lot of uncertainty looms over the housing market. Between rising rates and the new less-interest-friendly tax package, the market is facing some headwinds. But analysts say that the biggest driver right now is that the uncertainty around the tax package is finally in the rearview mirror, which is allowing deals to go through which were previously on hold.
FINSUM: Our view is that the top end of the market, say $1m+ homes, are going to struggle a bit for a few years. The reasons why being the new limited mortgage interest deductions rules, and the fact that the Millennial generation, which will drive home buying, are not very wealthy yet.
A term which is anathema to the ears of real estate developers and landlords is once again rearing its head—rent controls. A push for localized and state rent controls is mounting across the country and the battleground appears to be in California, which is set to vote on a number of such measures. Mid-sized and large cities have been seeing double digit percentage annual rent increases for years, which has led to an incredible pushback from tenants. A number of ballot measures would give local governments across the country significant power to control rents.
FINSUM: It has been a long time since these policies were last in force in a major way, and the collective memories of their downside seems to have been forgotten. All that said, this push is a reaction to the huge investment in housing that private equity firms made following the Crisis. Since then they have raised rents aggressively, which has led to this inevitable grass roots push.
While there has been some speculation that the US housing market may be facing a tough period ahead, new data is showing that prices might continue rising. The big worries are that rates will rise quickly, hurting mortgage demand, while at the same time, the new tax package will reduce home-buying because of the lack of deductibility of mortgage interest above a threshold. However, new data shows that housing inventory continues to sink. There are few homes for sale compared to buyer demand, and the building rate of new homes is weak. This means there is much more demand in the market than there is supply.
FINSUM: We are not very worried about home prices, especially in the lower and middle pars of the spectrum. The largest ever US generation—Millennials—is entering the key home buying period of their lives.
Any stock investor, especially those who have been investing over the last twenty years, has noticed that there is a dearth publicly traded companies these days. Years of mergers and acquisitions, combined with a lack of IPOs, means there are many less publicly traded companies these days. Now, in what seems a strong move to change that, the SEC is considering making a new rule that would bar shareholders from suing companies, with all claims moving to arbitration instead. Doing so would eliminate one of the headaches of going public for companies, and would move the relationship between shareholders and companies to something more akin to clients and advisors, where arbitration is the norm.
FINSUM: This is an interesting move, but we do not think it is enough to push companies over the edge to IPO. It might also prove poor from a corporate governance perspective.
There has been a lot of talk lately about a coming US and global trade war. A lot of the focus has been on China, but also NAFTA. Well Bloomberg says the idea of a looming trade war is wrong, because it is already here. Over the last few months the US has already added some stiff barriers to trading with Canada. The moves show that the US is not afraid to throw up tariffs even in trading relationships that are pretty balanced.
FINSUM: Trump and the US government are now taking a very firm line on trade by increasing tariffs and launching investigations into potential violations. We like the idea of the making US trade more fair after years of undermining ourselves, but do have some concerns it could backfire in the long run.